Please note views expressed on the following blog are those of the author and publication on the Undergraduate Laws blog does not constitute an endorsement.
New law student? If you’ve just registered, but have little idea on where to start, Julie Lawford’s guide has been designed with people like you in mind. She offers tips on how to start with your studies with Undergraduate Laws and outlines what resources and opportunities are available to support your learning.
Hi! I’m Julie, I am Australian but I have been studying from Sweden where I have lived since 2012 (see my vaguely traditional midsummer flower crown in the picture!). It seems like only a few months ago that I was deciding whether or not I wanted to undertake another three year degree, this time the LLB, in order to undergo a career change. It felt like it was a huge commitment that would take half a lifetime to complete. Now I’ve finished and I just don’t know where the time went! So a word of advice at the outset is: don’t be misled into thinking you have plenty of time until exams or that you will be stuck doing a degree for years and years – you will be there before you know it!
With that said, having taken my final exams this past May, I have been looking back and reflecting on my journey through the LLB; from lost first year to confident third year. I was studying entirely independently so I sometimes felt the absence of personal academic guidance. This brings me to this list of things which I wish I would have known when I started the LLB.
1. Use your local University library – it ended up being one of my most important resources. Aside from the fact that the library is a great place to study, if like me you cannot study at home, the library also houses books (shocking I know). I don’t live in the UK so I was surprised and delighted to find that my local university library had a vast array (and I mean shelves upon shelves!) of UK law textbooks. These were super helpful to me as they often went into more detail than the prescribed books, simplified some of the complex law or described it in another way which made it more understandable.
2. Careers! In first year you really need to be thinking about where you want the degree to take you and start making moves. I know this sounds way too early but trust me, legal recruitment begins in first year where you should be applying to firm open days (if you want to take the solicitor route). This is not only for your own information but to show the firms that you exist and are interested in them. It lays the groundwork for your applications in second year when you should ideally be taking part in vacation schemes at firms you are interested in. Finally in third year you should be applying for training contracts. These applications are intense and I could write a whole post about it, but for now, just know that these applications are to a rather large extent reliant on the preceding steps, so you really do need to start in first year!
3. Purchase that study guide! If you’re like me and felt unsure of how to write a law exam in first year and you don’t have an opportunity for feedback on your work, then I suggest purchasing a study guide (I used Law Express QA series). Guides are really useful because they give example questions with a full written answer and commentary on it. Firstly, this allowed me to see what issues I should be addressing, then how to address these issues and finally the level of detail needed. After using these books in first year I got the hang of it but I doubt I would be where I am today without them.
Another useful resource for much the same reasons are the formative assessment examples (available on the VLE). I discovered these in my second year and downloaded the first class answer and really studied it. What made it good? Why was it better than the others? How can I make my own answers more like this?
On a related note, without the help of a tutor it took me until third year to realise that a vital ingredient for a first class grade is criticism of the law. Prior to this I had thought the key to a good grade would be the same as in science that is knowing all the relevant law and the cases. I now know that wider thinking is needed for a first. This means considering the wider consequences of the law or a decision. A common consideration could be, for example, the effect on a fundamental human right.
4. There are a lot of resources on the VLE, and I certainly did not use all of them to the extent that I should have. Highlights are:
a. Past exams and reports! I used these almost more than I used the module guide. Do the exams and then mark your work against the examiner’s report. This really helps in learning what is expected from an exam question, how to apply the law to the scenario and present it in an answer.
b. Formative assessment examples (as mentioned above).
c. Audio lectures – I barely used these but they are really good if you have a long commute to work or to listen to while at work depending on your line of work.
d. Blog posts. Clearly you’ve found the blog, so be sure not to miss the posts by tutors which often include some recent cases and updates to the law which can get you a few extra points in an exam.
5. Don’t underestimate the value of a study buddy. They don’t need to be in the same country as you, but it helps to be able to discuss questions with another person, or even to just share the stress of exam season with someone else who understands.
6. Trust yourself. In first year I did not have any confidence in my knowledge despite studying hard. I was blinded by everyone else’s confidence and conviction in giving their opinions that I thought they must know what they were talking about and it was me who was mistaken. I quickly learnt however that speaking with conviction does not necessarily mean that the speaker knows what they are talking about. So as well as learning to trust myself a little more, I also learnt a little about the nature of law students.
7. Finally, if you have put the work in then you will be okay in the exam. Every single year as exams approached I would have the feeling ‘I still don’t know anything!!!!’, yet somehow, as if by magic the knowledge would all be there in my head at exactly the right time. Though of course it was not magic, it was the fact that I had put the work in. So if you too have put the work in, then you will be okay.
So there you have it. This is far from a complete list but I consider these to be the main points which can be used for all modules. Discovering the rest is to some extent part of the learning experience.
Best of luck!